Sofa Nuts: Wubba Wubba Asimov’s 90 Minutes Crazy Town

Jeff VanderMeer • October 23rd, 2009 @ 5:06 pm • Uncategorized

The latest Sofanauts podcast is up, discussing Asimov’s and digest genre mags generally. Me, Jeremy Tolbert, Sheila Williams, Asimov’s editor, and Brian Bieniowski, Asimov’s managing editor. I come off as some kind of speed freak, because I was too heavily caffeinated. Also, with four people plus Tony Smith, it was difficult to know when jumping in would seem like interruption. Ah well.

Anyway, it’s over 90 minutes long and I can’t bring myself to listen to it because while I’m sure it’s fascinating I want to get out and about tonight.

One thing worth point out: When someone asks a question about “have you thought about issues like continuity versus not being behind the times?” it’s not necessarily an attack. I was actually interested in an answer. I don’t know that I got one, because there’s such a disconnect in my mind between the sometimes interesting fiction Asimov’s and the other digests publish and the way in which they present themselves.

My point there was simply: I have a contributor’s copy from 1995 that looks exactly like the upcoming January 2010 issue, including Mike Resnick and Brian Stableford listed on the cover. Is that continuity or does that mean a revamp is needed? I still believe, in terms of the format and the way you promote the magazine, it means the latter. (That doesn’t mean I think Asimov’s doesn’t include new writers–they do. Nor does it mean I think Asimov should ditch big names like Resnick that sell copies.)

I’m also glad to hear that Asimov’s is no longer losing subscribers, but I’m not convinced they have anything resembling a plan–in part because the staff clearly has constraints imposed by the publisher, but also in part because Sheila and Brian are clearly not fluent in plans that include using the Internet and new media. As I kept saying again and again, they need a publicist, and they need one badly. Not just to refute bad publicity like Warren Ellis’ post about an aging audience, but also to take advantage of cool things they are doing.

Choosing good fiction is an entirely different skill from being able to present your magazine or book in a way that’s fluent and fluid. It would be nice if you could just do your thing and let people find it, but that’s not the paradigm in place right now. We’re seeing more and more writers and other creators who are comfortable being both right and left brained, who can be both deeply imaginative and organized and logical, but this will only ever comprise a minority of writers, etc.

So, anyway, if the podcast serves a purpose, it’s to test Asimov’s, sometimes pointedly, and for listeners to hear Sheila and Brian calmly answering the questions, Tolbert posing his objections equally calmly. While I babble on like a sleep-deprived, fast-talking loon. But sometimes loons are necessary, too.

7 Responses to “Sofa Nuts: Wubba Wubba Asimov’s 90 Minutes Crazy Town”

  1. Mike Resnick says:

    Are you suggesting that I should not sell to Asimov’s, or they should not buy from me, because I sold them a story 15 years ago?

    Mike Resnick

  2. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Mike–No, I’m not suggesting either one of those things. I asked Sheila a question about continuity in a magazine and used the comparison of the two issues to show how things had stayed the same. Staying the same is not a bad thing, nor was I making any comment on the quality of the writers or writing. And I think I stated that pretty explicitly, although my Skype connection wiped out so I don’t know if all of it got recorded. You’re free to think I was saying something different, but I was not. I’m a big fan of Brian Stableford, for example, and I mentioned him as well in the context of my question.

    Jeff

  3. Mike Resnick says:

    Just curious. The way you worded it could be — and was — misinterpreted. No problem.

  4. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    I’m sure, Mike. I’m tired as hell and was heavily caffeinated. I was going to just bow out but didn’t want to let Tony down and also didn’t want to let Sheila down since she insisted I be on the show. I really didn’t even want to do it today, to be honest. Just very tired. Anyway, apologies. I really was just talking about things on an abstract level. Happy to make that clear wherever or whenever it needs to be.

  5. Blue Tyson says:

    You did pretty well, espresso wired or not. A bit of fast talking there, certainly. :)

    Good to hear the electronic thing is going reasonably well.

    What’s bizarre to me is Realms Of Fantasy restarting, not a mention of that anywhere. Maybe you can couchinate some more editors sometime?

    Post offices undergoing some interesting times in the Chinese sense – so mailing stuff is only going to get more challenging, I think?

  6. rushmc says:

    A former subscriber, I saw an issue of Asimov’s on the newsstand a few months ago. I would *never* buy a copy in its current form, no matter how good the content was. It was worse than a wad of toilet paper. I have zines going back to the 50s, and part of their charm is their format (and that their format was substantial enough to allow them to *last* since the 50s). Seeing the path Asimov’s has chosen to take, which I think is an insult to their readers, whatever their financial realities, sent my renewal money to F&SF.

  7. Christie says:

    I thought the podcast was great, and the conversation was one that needed to happen. Tired or not, wired or not, it was a challenging discussion and I hope that the Asimov’s team and their higher-ups took the important parts away with them: they need a plan, and a platform in the 2.0 world. I felt for Sheila when she repeatedly said that she is just one person and has been working on some of these things but does not have the final say – who doesn’t deal with that in their day job? I sincerely hope that the Powers That Be listen.

    Personally I find a certain charm in the continuity, but I think the lack of an immediate and interactive web presence does not allow them to present that continuity to its best advantage. The one thing that really startled me was ‘most people know who we are’ (horribly paraphrased I’m sure) – that’s just head-in-the-sand thinking. Most people 35 and up, who have been reading short science fiction all their lives, do – but my kids have never heard of them, and *that’s* who the periodicals need to reach out to if they’re going to last, (‘the iPod generation,’ either you or Jeremy called them, I think.)

    Thanks for doing the show even though you didn’t feel like it.

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